Oct 12, 2021

The Honorable Joseph Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

The Honorable Anthony Blinken
The US Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20590

Cc:

The Honorable Charles E. Schumer
Majority Leader
United States Senate
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Minority Leader
United States Senate
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Re: Creation of P-2 Designation for Vulnerable Afghan Religious Minorities Suffering from Taliban Religious Freedom Abuses

Dear President Biden and Secretary Blinken:

We are an informal participant-led, multi-religious group that advocates for international religious freedom. Despite our extremely broad diversity of theological views and political positions, we are united in our horror at the unfolding events in Afghanistan following the U.S. troop withdrawal and Taliban takeover. We are especially concerned about the fate of vulnerable religious minorities in Afghanistan who face potential human rights abuses at the hands of the Taliban and its affiliates, who are now in control of Afghanistan.

We collectively have assembled numerous reports of horrific mistreatment of religious minorities by Taliban militants now roaming freely throughout Afghanistan. Christians, Hazaras (Shias), and other religious minorities seeking refuge have been murdered, whipped, had their ID documents seized, and their cell phones destroyed. They are being identified via government records and hunted down in door-to-door searches.1 They are receiving officially stamped “threat letters” warning that they have been identified for arrest or worse. Property is being stolen. Women are being seized, raped (“married” in the eyes of Taliban thugs), or killed, and men are being summarily executed or tortured.2 In short, for many religious minorities, their status as believers in a faith not approved by the Taliban is a death sentence.

The Taliban in Afghanistan seeks to impose a perverse interpretation of Islam in which religious minorities and non-compliant majority group members must be subjugated or eliminated. All Afghan citizens are at risk if they disagree with or fail to comply with the religion based rules the Taliban is imposing. Reports of killings of religious minorities are increasing, and many are in hiding. This week ISIS-K took responsibility for a horrific bombing of a Shia (Hazara) mosque in Kandahar where dozens were killed and hundreds wounded.

We expect a swift reversion to Taliban policies of the 1990’s when religious minorities and dissenters were jailed, forced to convert, publicly whipped or executed, forced to pay tribute and use distinctive colors on their clothes and homes. The United States must act to protect these communities now. Specifically, it must open its door to Afghan refugees fleeing persecution based on their religious beliefs.

On August 2, 2021 the U.S. State Department created a P-2 category for certain Afghan nationals who are at risk of harm because of their U.S. affiliations but do not meet the eligibility requirements for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs for Afghans.

Recently, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that the U.S. State Department create a Priority 2 (P-2) category for vulnerable Afghan religious minorities, which would give them direct access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) to apply for resettlement in the United States. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA-14) introduced H.R. 4736 on July 28, 2021 which would provide for priority refugee slots for Afghans including those persecuted on account of race or religion.3

As you know, a P-2 category allows individuals who are members of a group that the U.S. government has identified as “of special humanitarian concern” to apply directly to the USRAP, without first having to apply, be processed, and be referred by UNHCR. Removing the UNHCR referral step speeds up the process for P-2 refugees, although they still must undergo U.S. government processing and extensive security vetting. Every USRAP applicant is assessed individually to determine whether they meet the legal standard for refugee status—a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group—and are otherwise eligible for admission under U.S immigration law.

In light of rapidly deteriorating conditions for religious minorities in Afghanistan due to the Taliban’s ascendancy in the region, we recommended the following:

  1. The U.S. State Department should create a new P-2 category for vulnerable religious minorities from Afghanistan, who live in fear of reprisals and harm from the Taliban and its affiliates (e.g., TTP). These religious minorities should have direct access to USRAP. Their processing can take place at a hub country (e.g., Qatar, UAE, etc.) since in-country processing within Afghanistan is not presently possible. It is recommended that an initial annual cap of at least 4,000 applicants (primaries and dependents) be included in the proposed expanded P-2 program, as follows (reviewed and assessed annually): Hazaras: 1500; Christians: 1500; Ahmadis: 500; Sikhs: 250; Hindus: 250.
  2. U.S. Congress should consider passing legislation creating a legal presumption of eligibility for refugee status for vulnerable religious minorities from Afghanistan, which would create a more lenient reduced evidentiary burden than for other refugee applicants. This legislation can track the 1989 Lautenberg Amendment.As precedent, the U.S. State Department, through supporting Congressional legislation, has granted P-2 status in the past to other religiously persecuted groups:
    • The 1989 Lautenberg Amendment extended P-2 status to certain Soviet and Indochinese nationals.
    • The 2004 Specter Amendment extended P-2 status to Iranian religious minorities.
    • A 2007 Kennedy-sponsored bill extended P-2 status to certain Iraqi religious minorities.

The situation in Afghanistan demands immediate steps that can save the lives of religious minorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan who face imminent harm. Thank you in advance for your attention to our requests, and we stand ready to meet with Administration officials to facilitate this effort.

SIGNATURES

 

ORGANIZATIONS

 

Law and Liberty Trust
Lauren B. Homer, President

 

 

INDIVIDUALS (WITH ORGANIZATION PROVIDED FOR IDENTIFICATION PURPOSES ONLY)

 

Dean Householder
Chief Technology Officer
First Freedom Foundation

Patrice J. Pederson
President
First Freedom Foundation

 

 

 

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